Airbnb Cancels the Great Wall of China Contest

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By Lucy Wang
The Beijing Yanqing Cultural Commission puts a halt to Airbnb's plans to host guests in an ancient watchtower on the Great Wall of China.

For their latest Night At campaign, Airbnb planned to offer a few lucky guests an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay at one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The hospitality company teamed up with the Beijing Tourism Development Committee to sensitively alter a centuries-old watchtower into lavish accommodations with a four-poster bed and plenty of cozy textiles to soften the brick-and-stone surroundings. According to South China Morning Post, however, the Beijing Yanqing Cultural Commission opposed the initiative, as it "is not in line with the Great Wall’s heritage conservation values."

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Mainly constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the centuries-old Great Wall is believed to have included an estimated 25,000 watchtowers erected for border control and defense.

Mainly constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the centuries-old Great Wall is believed to have included an estimated 25,000 watchtowers erected for border control and defense.

Located on a ridgeline, the custom-designed Airbnb offers 360-degree panoramic views of the Chinese countryside.

Located on a ridgeline, the custom-designed Airbnb offers 360-degree panoramic views of the Chinese countryside.

In response, Airbnb has cancelled the contest, stating that "while there was an agreement in place that was the basis for the announcement of this event, we deeply respect the feedback we have received."

The original contest asked interested guests to submit answers to a prompt asking "Why is it more important now than ever to break down barriers between cultures?" and "How would you want to build new connections?"

"Following an evening under the stars, guests will embark on a sunrise hike through China’s breathtaking countryside while learning about the Great Wall, its heritage, history and protection efforts from the Wall’s official historians," said Airbnb.

"Following an evening under the stars, guests will embark on a sunrise hike through China’s breathtaking countryside while learning about the Great Wall, its heritage, history and protection efforts from the Wall’s official historians," said Airbnb.

These questions are in part inspired by the history of the Great Wall, which was mostly constructed in the 14th through 17th centuries to protect the northern borders of China from raids and invasions.

"Historically, the Great Wall was built to be a border," read the original Airbnb listing. "And today, it opens arms to welcome all."

The converted watchtower is located in one of the better preserved sections of the Great Wall in northwest Beijing.

The converted watchtower is located in one of the better preserved sections of the Great Wall in northwest Beijing.

The watchtower has been fitted out with a large four-poster bed elevated off the ground for comfort.

The watchtower has been fitted out with a large four-poster bed elevated off the ground for comfort.

Four winners selected on the basis of their response would have been invited to spend a night on the Great Wall along with their chosen guests. The one-night stay included round-trip airfare, visas, a gourmet dinner, and carefully curated experiences such as a Chinese calligraphy lesson.

Plans were laid for guests to learn about Chinese culture through Airbnb-curated experiences that included seal engraving and traditional calligraphy courses.

Plans were laid for guests to learn about Chinese culture through Airbnb-curated experiences that included seal engraving and traditional calligraphy courses.

The package included a gourmet, multiple-course dinner, with each dish representing a different aspect of Chinese culture.

The package included a gourmet, multiple-course dinner, with each dish representing a different aspect of Chinese culture.

After the one-night stay in September, the bedroom would have been dismantled, and the watchtower returned to its original condition. 

"It’s been an honor to work with historians and preservationists groups in Beijing to bring this once-in-a-lifetime experience to the world," said Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chairman of Airbnb China, before the contest was cancelled. "We are so proud to partner in this truly collective effort to highlight such an incredible landmark that now serves to unify people rather than divide them."

Described as a "campsite" in the listing, this unique one-bedroom is not equipped with running water. Guests are given two bathroom options: a portable bathroom in the watchtower or at the visitors' station at the entrance of the Great Wall.

Described as a "campsite" in the listing, this unique one-bedroom is not equipped with running water. Guests are given two bathroom options: a portable bathroom in the watchtower or at the visitors' station at the entrance of the Great Wall.

Winners would be able to bring along one guest; cozy corners such as the one pictured here make the space ideal for couples.

Winners would be able to bring along one guest; cozy corners such as the one pictured here make the space ideal for couples.

Soft textiles help turn the brick-and-stone structure into a more inviting space.

Soft textiles help turn the brick-and-stone structure into a more inviting space.

Dinner was to be accompanied with live music played on traditional Chinese instruments.

Dinner was to be accompanied with live music played on traditional Chinese instruments.

Arched windows frame views of the forested mountains of Yangqing.

Arched windows frame views of the forested mountains of Yangqing.

Considered one of the world's most impressive architectural feats, the Great Wall stretches an estimated 13,171 miles in length.

Considered one of the world's most impressive architectural feats, the Great Wall stretches an estimated 13,171 miles in length.

Nature has taken over much of the border wall—constructed from natural materials like wood, earth, brick and even wood—which has fallen into disrepair in many areas.

Nature has taken over much of the border wall—constructed from natural materials like wood, earth, brick and even wood—which has fallen into disrepair in many areas.